Out of kōrero comes understanding – the power of iwi radio

Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson recently described iwi radio kaimahi as the “unsung heroes” of the drive to promote good information about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Published: Rāpare, 09 Hakihea, 2021 | Thursday, 9 December 2021

“I especially want to mention the brilliant work they’re doing at the coal face,” he told TV3’s The Hui last month. “They’re the unsung heroes of te ao Māori. Ngā mihi to them for their wonderful contribution over the last 12 months.”

The 21 iwi radio stations were established in the 1990s to promote te reo Māori and provide a platform for Māori stories and music. Serving urban populations like Tāmaki Makaurau and smaller rural communities throughout Aotearoa, the stations create a space where Māori voices are heard, acknowledged and respected.

Highlighting candid local voices

In the middle of Māngere is Radio Waatea, one of five stations in key regions to be running sponsored series of Karawhiua Kōrero to encourage whānau and rangatahi to make informed choices about vaccination.

The panels bring together local health practitioners, candid local voices ranging from vaccine hesitant to the fully vaxed, rangatahi and pakeke. Each station has made the shared kōrero its own.

In its latest session Radio Waatea caught up with Turanga Porowini Morgan-Edmonds, bassist for Māori thrash-metal band Alien Weaponry which recently returned from a three-month tour of the USA.  

“We were in the support role for the metal band Gojira. We were running under their very strict rules – no people backstage, no mingling with fans, masks inside venues,” says Turanga who is vaccinated and currently in MIQ.

“We had to nose-swab ourselves every day. Rightfully so. Our bubble was 30 to 40 people and you couldn’t put any of them at risk just because you wanted to do something like go to a restaurant. If one of us got sick there’d be no tour, no job. And we couldn’t risk spreading it over the US without knowing it. The repercussions!”

Broadcasting to te ao Māori

Over at Tumeke FM in Whakatāne three rangatahi from Trident High School talk about their obligations to whānau and hopes for university and overseas travel.

“I did it for my nieces and nephews with weak immune systems and my sister’s baby who doesn’t have a choice. I just got it. I trust what I’ve been told is in it and I know there are consequences if you don’t get it.”

In Rotorua Te Arawa FM host Mercia Yates talks to rangatahi Mamaeroa Merito and Lakes DHB public health kaimahi Yvonne Rogers who are both determined to keep the vaccination momentum going.

Te Arawa FM host Mercia Yates talks to Yvonne Rogers and Mamaeroa Merito.

“What is whakapapa?” asks Yvonne. “It’s layer upon layer of generations and I want to protect this layer now.”

The weekly Karawhiua Kōrero Taiohi Hour on Te Korimako o Taranaki is by rangatahi for rangatahi with Taiohi Toa Ambassadors interviewing guest speakers on important kaupapa like looking after your mental health during COVID. Live Q&As on Ngati Hine FM, Whangārei complete the set of five.

Immediacy is the trademark of radio. Karawhiua promoted the “Vax now” mapping tool nationwide on iwi radio and supported presenter shout-outs to low vax centres when Tāmaki Makaurau went into lockdown.

Te Hononga Wakapāoho Māori

Knitting it all together is Te Hononga Whakapāoho Māori / Māori Media Network, a national advertising bureau specialising in Māori media/radio/publications and communications for iwi. 

“When we saw the brief for Karawhiua Kōrero we knew Māori Radio was the ideal vehicle,” says account manager Jacqui McVie.  “We’ve always maintained the stations are the trusted voices of their communities.

“Each specially tailored segment demonstrated the stations’ intimate knowledge of their audience and the unique issues they face. It built on the mahi already being done so fitted seamlessly into their programming.”

Trusted, inclusive and engaging

In recent Ministry of Health research 50% of all respondents said they trusted iwi radio stations to deliver information on the vaccines to Māori. The stations ranked just below the government’s Unite Against COVID-19 website (54%).

The results are a big endorsement of small stations that lean heavily on community goodwill and volunteers for survival.

Karawhiua Kōrero panels have ranged from living with unvaccinated whānau, to mixed views on mandates, to fears and phobias around vaccinations, to the very real experience of coping with the illness.

The discussions are funny, engaging, gently teasing, challenging. Rangatahi, tuakana, experts and whānau listening and respecting each other – the power and reach of iwi radio to resonate locally and change minds.

A channel towards understanding

“I’m not vaxed. I’m from a spiritual background and have taken a stance – it’s my family’s stance – that I’m sticking to,” says a rangatahi in an October Waatea kōrero.

“I’m double vaccinated for myself and my patients,” Dr Jason Tuhoe (Papakura Marae Health Clinic) responds quietly. “I’ve had Covid. I was in hospital for six days and away from my whānau for five weeks. It had a big impact on my wairua. It was not only physically taxing but also mentally and spiritually taxing. I don’t normally talk about personal experience but out of kōrero comes understanding.”

Iwi radio may be an unsung hero but it is there every day reflecting, responding, and delivering to communities. It touches hearts and minds. It is an irreplaceable channel towards understanding.